Champagne and New Year’s Eve seem to go together in this country like hamburgers and french fries. I have nothing against Champagne, or the myriad other sparkling wines the world has to offer, but this night is about change; maybe you don’t want to ring in 2014 doing the same old thing. Here are 10 guaranteed-festive options that will keep the party going long into the new year.
2012 Clean Slate Mosel Riesling
You’ve made a few mistakes in 2013. It’s OK, we all did. With Clean Slate at the party, your friends will know that this evening is about the future, not the past. It’s a great glass of wine—the German producer says “überfresh,” and that’s accurate. It’s low in alcohol too, which means you’ll have a clear head when the clock strikes midnight. That’s necessary for…
2011 Branham Estate Resolution
Once you’ve wiped the slate clean, it’s time for resolutions, and Resolution, from Branham Estate Wines in Napa Valley. Made by Gary Branham, a UC Davis student in the ’70s who has been making wines under his own label since 1999, this 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in French oak barrels. It offers classic California Cab notes of rich, mouthwatering red fruits and tobacco, with low acid. It’s also got some alcoholic oomph to get you motivated.
2009 Egly-Ouriet Ambonnay Rouge or 2008 René Geoffroy Cumières Rouge
Avoiding bubbles doesn’t necessarily mean skipping Champagne. Wines labeled Coteaux Champenois come from the same region as their carbonated cousins and are made from the same grapes, but are still. These high acid, scrumptious reds even pair with many of the same things Champagne does. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, try to find Rosé des Riceys, the only still rosé made in the region—truly a unicorn wine.
2010 Domaine de la Pépière Granite de Clisson Muscadet (jeroboam)
New Year’s Eve is about celebrating with friends, and one of the most impressive ways to do that is with a massively oversize bottle of wine. Jeroboams (three-liter bottles) can be pricey, but the price per 750 ml here [http://www.klwines.com/detail.asp?sku=1129971] is around $23—a great price for a wine as good as this. Organically farmed, hand-harvested and fermented in underground vats, producer Marc Olivier’s wines have long been benchmark bottles for Muscadet lovers. The classic pairing for Muscadet is raw oysters, but this wine can handle oysters Rockefeller with no problem.
2011 M. Chapoutier Banyuls
New Year’s Eve is no time to start a diet. That’s for later. Come in from the cold, put on a sweater and indulge in Banyuls, a fortified sweet wine made in the Roussillon region of France. Michel Chapoutier, star of the Rhône Valley, makes an excellent example of this concentrated, intense, sweet, Grenache-based wine that pairs perfectly with chocolate desserts and American blue cheeses.
2011 Château Sipian
In America, good Bordeaux has long been considered the wine of the wealthy—a perception that many of the region’s producers would like to change. The truth is that a lot of high-quality, affordable Bordeaux is appearing, such as this fragrant and complex bottling from Château Sipian. For all its efforts, Bordeaux still seems a bit classy, so pour it into a decanter and pair it with a slightly formal New Year’s Eve celebration.
2009 Bodegas Santalba Ermita de San Felices Crianza
Champagne isn’t the beverage of choice on New Year’s Eve everywhere in the world. Many countries celebrate with a version of mulled wine. In Chile it’s navegado; in Germany, glühwein; in Russia, glintwein. Channeling the Iberian peninsula, I made my last batch with this inexpensive young Spanish wine that has just enough tannin and backbone to hold up to the spices. Regardless of what you call it or where it’s from, you can’t help but think of the holidays when the clove, anise, cinnamon and sugar start to bubble in the pot.
2009 Tenuta di Trinoro Le Cupole
There’s a tradition in Italy of eating indulgent sausages on New Year’s Eve to symbolize the richness of the year ahead. The best pairing is a rich red, such as this Tuscan blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot. It holds up beautifully to cotechino sausage or even a sausage-stuffed rack of pork, but the bright acidity and freshness of the Cab Franc make it a wine you can keep drinking after dinner, straight through to midnight.
2010 Sepp Muster Gelber Muskateller vom Opok
The new year is about trying new things, and Gelber Muskateller (known outside Germany and Austria as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) very likely fits the bill. Though the grape sometimes suffers from a reputation as thin and insipid, this bottle from Austria’s Styria region is fantastic—spicy and broad textured.
All right, so it’s not technically wine, but this crisp Spanish apple cider is one of the most exciting fermented fruit beverages I’ve had recently—and the perfect sparkling drink for those who don’t want Champagne all night, but still want to toast with something bubbly. Castañón was founded in 1936 by Alfredo García Menéndez and is now led by his grandson Julián Castañón García.